Two-buck Chuck is the nickname for the Charles Shaw wines made by Fred Franzia's Bronco Wine Company and sold only at Trader Joe's, the gourmet grocery with the cult following. They're called Two-buck Chuck because the wines cost $1.99 in Trader Joe's California stores, even though the price varies depending on where in the country the wine is sold.
The Wine Curmudgeon doesn't usually review these wines; there aren't any Trader Joe's in Dallas (though the company is threatening to build in Texas) and the chain is only in 32 states, with single stores in a half dozen or so of those. But when I get to New Mexico, which has Trader Joe's, I always buy wine for reviews. Two-buck Chuck, if not the best cheap wine, is one of the first modern cheap wines, and deserves thoughtful criticism.
I tasted three wines during this visit: The chardonnay, which will show up in a post reviewing $3 wines one of these days; the sauvignon blanc, which was unimpressive, and the pinot grigio ($3, purchased), which was quite impressive. In fact, it was much nicer than I expected it to be from past experiences with Two-buck Chuck, and would merit Hall of Fame consideration if it was more widely available.
The pinot grigio was fresh and clean with what can best be described as a hint of lemon pith fruit — yes, a very sophisticated description for a $3 wine. Other than being a little thin in the front, it was extremely well done. And, though it had some of the turpentine-like aroma common to cheap pinot grigio, it was nowhere near as noticeable as the smell of so many badly made Italian versions. We drank it chilled on a Santa Fe patio in stunningly pleasant summer weather, but this would pair with almost any white wine food. Chill it first, and don't let it sit around the house too long. This is not the kind of wine that will get better with age.